- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 6, 2020

President Trump’s 2020 playbook looks a lot like his game plan from 2016.

From a law-and-order agenda to a grudge match with the news media, Mr. Trump is giving his base a sequel to the campaign that got them to send a renegade billionaire-turned-politician to the White House four years ago.

This time, Mr. Trump doesn’t have the advantage of running as an “outsider” after nearly four years in Washington leading the country and the Republican Party.

“What I think is a problem for Trump this time around — he is a much more known quantity,” said Kenneth Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University.

In 2016, many voters were willing to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt, he said, but there’s uncertainty as to whether they’ll stick with him now that he has a record to examine.

Mr. Trump is confident his record stands up to scrutiny, having delivered on promised trade deals, border security and tax cuts.

“I like what he’s done for our country. He’s the only guy who holds true to his promises,” said Angela Donaldson, 46, a registered Republican in the Philadelphia suburbs who plans to vote again for Mr. Trump this year.

In his last campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly visited battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, hoping to win over union voters and blue-collar workers with a message of law and order and get-tough trade negotiations, especially with China.

He also blasted Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who he painted as a “crook” for alleged corruption in the family’s Clinton Foundation and her use of a private email server for official business while serving as secretary of state.

He gave her the nickname “Crooked Hillary.”

It worked. He defeated Mrs. Clinton by less than 1% in all three states, which was enough to deliver him the Electoral College votes needed to win.

Mr. Trump’s rerun of that same message of law and order this year amid unrest and rioting in several cities has won him endorsements from law enforcement groups.

Another sign that a “replay” could work is polls show him closing in on Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden in battleground states.

“This worked for Nixon. It worked for [George] H.W. Bush and it worked apparently for Trump — somewhat, anyway,” Mr. Warren said.

Like his messaging of law and order, the president also has kept the volume cranked up against the news media.

He coined the phrase “fake news” during his 2016 campaign. After entering the White House, the president had advisers publicly refer to the press as the “opposition party.”

Mr. Trump successfully tapped into the public’s distrust of the media — especially within his party, as Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated with the uneven coverage they say they receive compared to Democrats.

The Republican National Convention put several examples of erroneous media coverage on display.

Most notably, the virtual convention gave the microphone to Nicholas Sandmann, the teenager who took CNN and The Washington Post to court for defamation after outlets portrayed him as an instigator during an encounter with an American Indian activist on the National Mall. Video of the incident later suggested it was the activist who approached — and initiated — an encounter with Mr. Sandmann. Both news outlets have settled their cases with him.

First lady Melania Trump took some swipes at the press, referring to false media coverage of her husband, during her remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

“Just as you are fighting for your families, my husband, our family, and the people in this administration are here fighting for you. No matter the amount of negative or false media headlines or attacks from the other side, Donald Trump has not and will not lose focus on you. He loves this country and he knows how to get things done,” Mrs. Trump said.

Election experts say the attacks on the press don’t do much to court voters beyond the president’s base.

“There isn’t any doubt that Republicans talk about that at all levels,” said G. Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. “I don’t think that is likely to change at all.”

The president also complained about potential election fraud in 2016, pointing the finger at undocumented immigrants potentially voting in large numbers. But in 2020, the president is warning about a different type of election integrity issue — fraudulent mail-in voting. He has protested states permitting universal mail-in voting during the pandemic, saying it will be rife with fraud.

Chris Haynes, a political science professor at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, said the president is trying to “reframe the election” to the issues that were successful last time instead of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crash of the economy.

“He is trying to do the oldies but goodies thing. It could work because it worked once. That said, a lot of things have really changed since then,” Mr. Haynes said.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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